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How to Unstick a Trumpet Valve
It never fails...
just when you've got your clothes all cleaned and pressed. Just when you've finally figured out the intricacies of your solo and you're starting to feel comfortable with the music...you pick up your instrument, put the mouthpiece to your lips and find....
a stuck valve.
Dangnabitall! Why? Why, why, why?!?!? Why now? Why you? Why....
Now that you've expressed your frustration (in terms that are probably a bit more colorful than those expressed here) and you've pulled the valve out only to have it stick again. And again. And again....take a deep breath. All is not lost.
Hopefully you've still got a little while before you have to stand in front of the grateful masses (or your band director) and blow. So let's start from the bottom and work our way up.
When was the last time you oiled your valves? Or is it possible you've oiled them too much? Too much can be just as bad as not enough because eventually the oil gets sticky and then the valves don't want to work. And so you add more oil....see the cycle starting?
When it comes to oiling your valves, remember that a little bit goes a long way. Just a drop or two usually does the trick.
Okay...so oiling them didn't work.
You might want to try a good cleaning...remove all the valves (remember which came from what chamber), wipe them down with a lint-free cloth, remove the corks and the felts and wash them in warm...not hot...water. A little shampoo (very little) might help to cut the oil residue. Then shake them out firmly and set them to dry. Don't try to oil and install them again until they're thoroughly dry.
Meanwhile, wash the rest of the instrument by carefully removing the slides (again, remember where each came from) and submerging in a warm, slightly soapy (again, mild shampoo) tub of water. A bathtub works fine. Snake the instrument and the slide and then rinse thoroughly. Again, wipe with a lint-free cloth and make sure the instrument is thoroughly dry before re-assembling it.
Once it's dry, oil your valves (again...remember a little goes a long way), grease the slides, put it back together and cross your fingers.
HELP! The bath didn't help either,
and that pesky valve is still stuck and the recital is tonight! Well...the good news is that now you know how to wash the instrument. The bad news is that you get to do it again.
It's easier the second time, though.
Time to try lapping the valve.
Relax...it's not as scary as it sounds. Again, start simple. Go back and take the valves apart the same way you did when you washed them, and wash the trouble valve again. Once more, wipe the valve with a lint-free cloth only this time, instead of oiling it spread a tiny bit of toothpaste (Brasso works, too -- and you can purchase lapping compound at many shops that deal in musical instruments) around the bottom of the valve and then replace it in the chamber and begin to work the valve up and down.
What you're doing is gently scrubbing both the valve and the chamber. As you work the valve, you should feel it begin to move more smoothly and, after about ten minutes, remove the valve again, wash it, and the rest of the instrument thoroughly (you have to get all traces of the toothpaste out -- on the plus side, now it smells minty-fresh), following the same procedure we outlined above.
Oil and reassemble the instrument and give it a try. You valve should be working like a charm.
If not, you might want to try lapping again...but a word of caution:
- never force the valve; you could end up doing serious damage.
- make sure you get the valves lined up correctly.
- don't overdo the oil. Remember a little goes a long way and it's a lot easier to add another drop or two than it is to take apart the trumpet and wash it again.
don't over-oil or you risk being right back where you started from.
When all else fails..
and it's still sticking...it might be time to visit your repair shop.